At Wynn Palace Cotai, Red 8 dives deep into ancient Chinese barbecue tradition and serves it with a side of contemporary flair.
Red 8 chef de cuisine Leung Wei Mun slices duck fresh from the open flame.
Roasted duck, barbecued goose, suckling pig... the warm aroma of roasting applewood chips and smoky charcoal will lead you straight to Red 8 at Wynn Palace at Cotai. At this crimson-toned address, chef de cuisine Leung Wei Mun serves a sought-after selection of siu mei (meaning “roast-flavored”)—a style of Cantonese barbecue that’s known for its beloved balance of juicy meat and crispy skin. “In keeping with ancient Chinese cooking traditions, where meats are grilled over an open flame, the siu mei at Red 8 is prepared in much the same way,” says chef Leung. “First they are marinated with a traditional homemade sauce, then dried and placed on spits to grill over an open flame for a truly classic flavor.”
Now considered a calling card of Cantonese cuisine, this ancient culinary style is actually thought to have emerged during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 A.D.), when suckling pig was first mentioned in the ancient agricultural text Qimin Yaoshu. After its introduction, food historians such as Lingnan University’s Dr. Siu Yan Ho say siu mei proliferated in Guangdong, in southern China, thanks to the area’s strong food culture and abundance of common siu mei ingredients such as pork, goose and duck. “With the vigorous development of Guangdong’s food culture, many restaurants in Guangzhou have chosen to open their branches in Hong Kong, so this has further settled the culture of dim sum and siu mei in the region,” explains Dr. Siu, a former French chef who specializes in Hong Kong food and culture. “Furthermore, during the Second World War and the Chinese Civil War, many Cantonese moved to Hong Kong with their cooking skills. Since then, the siu mei culture has gradually developed in the area.”
Meats are barbecued over California applewood to imbue a distinctively smoky flavor.
With its mix of Cantonese and Portuguese heritage, siu mei is also ubiquitous in Macau. But the dining experience at Red 8 is a little different from what you’d expect at a mom-and-pop shop. You can tuck into chef Leung’s contemporary siu mei and classic Peking duck without sacrificing creature comforts. Inside the eye-catching open kitchen, where flames lick the crispy skins of various poultry, Leung crafts a delicious combination of old and new. For example, the chef adds a modern touch to dishes such as barbecue pork (char siu) by sourcing premium Iberico from Portugal and flavoring it with organic honey. “From the moment the pork arrives, it involves thawing, slicing, pickling, drying and barbecuing,” says Leung. “The pork has a naturally thin and even texture. It is tender, yet full of flavor.” Chef Leung also diverges from tradition when it comes to his suckling pig. Instead of hanging pigs to roast, which is a common sight in siu mei restaurants in Macau and Hong Kong, Leung had a roasting oven specifically designed for them. “As the pigs roast, we must keep a watchful eye over them and apply oil to the skin with a basting brush all throughout the process,” he adds. Though he focuses on local specialties, Leung also incorporates other types of Chinese barbecue in his menu, including Beijing roast duck. Not to be confused with Cantonese roast duck, which calls for distinct spices, the Beijing variety is usually unseasoned to highlight the duck’s original flavor. The latter is cut into distinct slices of skin and boneless meat that diners can easily wrap up in Chinese pancakes. “We have chosen to use applewood chips from California for roasting ducks because it lends a wonderfully smoky and lovely aroma,” says Leung. “Throughout the roasting process, the wood imbues skin with a natural apple flavor.” From his choice of premium ingredients to the refined atmosphere, Leung catapults the ancient tradition of Chinese barbecue into the future.